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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

17 July 2016

15th-17th July, Madrid

I booked a trip to Amsterdam earlier this year, in order to see the major Bosch exhibition in his home town of s’Hertogenbosch, marking the 500th anniversary of his death. Cleverly, I didn’t think to book a ticket for the exhibition first, meaning that by the time I remembered, it had sold out. I still had a cool time, but I wasn’t letting go of that chance to see lots of Bosch in the one place. While I couldn’t fit in another attempt to go to s’Hertogenbosch, I could fly to where the exhibition was travelling next: Madrid.

Although I already went to Madrid last year, the Prado is a fantastic gallery that certainly warrants repeat visits. This time there was another complication, due to easyjet randomly cancelling the flight just over two weeks before I was due to go (they make sure to cancel just over, as if it is within 14 days, you’re eligible for a full refund, IIRC). Fortunately I could take advantage of their offer to reschedule to an earlier flight. It meant an extra day in Madrid I wasn’t intending, but meh, there are other world class galleries in Madrid.

My main goal was still the Prado, but having the Saturday meant I could also check out the Thyssen collection. An old travel guide sitting on our bookshelf claimed that, because of the Thyssen’s broad range, many people preferred it to the intensity of the Prado. I doubted that would be true in my case (that guide was a Lonely Planet, which tends to be less cerebral than my preferred Rough Guides. And yes, I’m a snob ;D), but I was looking forward to experiencing a different gallery.

My flight from Bristol to Madrid was straightforward, arriving around 9pm. However, getting from the airport to the hostel took longer than I expected, as Linea 1 was down and I didn't realise. Anyway, it did give me a chance to wander the streets on the way to the hostel (having played some Pokemon Go off the airpot wifi: it's an interesting phenomenon, so I've been joining in to make sure I understand it ;D). They say New York is the city that never sleeps, but I think Madrid can lay claim to that too. Whenever I'm in Spain, one of the many nice things is that wandering round at midnight, it feels more like 8pm. Families are having dinner, there's music and the streets are full. :)

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Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

I didn't really want an extra day in Madrid, as I was all set for Bosch. From what I'd read about the Thyssen museum (based on an incredible private collection: the family history is worth reading, with soap opera drama continuing today), it had great art, but wasn't focused.

Very fortunately for me, they happened to have a temporary exhibition on Caravaggio. I am not as interested in Italian art (compared to my love of Dutch and Flemish painting, along with Spanish), but I do like Caravaggio. Mainly that's because he influenced many of my favourites, like Artemisia Gentileschi and Rembrandt. So this exhibition couldn't be more perfect, as it's all about his influence on other painters, particularly the Dutch.

As ever in temporary exhibitions, you can't take pictures, so the ones I'm using here are from the museum apps, for the Prado and the Thyssen. This exhibition has loans from all over the place, plus an excellent audio guide. There's even good WiFi, meaning I can continue to catch Pokemon. :D

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The main Thyssen collection proved to be interesting (and unlike the temporary Caravaggio exhibition, you are allowed to take pics of the permanent art at Thyssen-Bornemisza). As it is such a wide-ranging assortment, aiming for breadth rather than depth, I was able to both enjoy old friends (I'll get onto those later) and make new ones. My favourite of those newcomers was Derick Baegert (1440-1515), who I've never encountered before. His figures are strangely compelling, with that wonderful 15th century German mix of grotesque, expressive and detailed. The scenes are unusual, quite modern in places, like the woman pointing downwards as her child matches her almost sarcastic expression.

Rather more recently, the portrait of the gallery's main living patron, Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, is fabulous. I don't think I need to tell you that was painted in the late '80s. The former beauty queen who married into (LOTS) of money seems to be saying "Yeah, I look like I've just stepped off a Dynasty set, but I'm largely responsible for providing you with all this awesome art, so you can shove your 'nouveau riche' snobbery right up your easel." ;D

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In terms of those old friends, there were many. For example, El Greco, Baldung, Van Eyck and van der Weyden. The vast majority of my interest was taken up by the second floor, which focused on the period prior to 1700. The first floor was rather less appealing, given it moves into later centuries: I therefore spent under an hour there. However, it did have two of my rare post-1750 exceptions, Gustave Moreau and the big one, Goya. I don't know how he managed to get away with that vicious portrait: it's very obvious what he thinks of the tyrannical thug King Ferdinand VII. Somehow he wasn't executed, which is good news for art lovers. ;)

There were a few others I've been meaning to look into more, like Bristol artist Sir Thomas Lawrence, Toulouse-Lautrec (one of the very few French painters who appeals to me from that period) and George Grosz. Like Goya, he somehow survived a horrible regime while being critical, in his case Hitler. I lavished even less time on the ground floor (not sure I managed a full 30 minutes), because that gets into the stuff I really hate (e.g., abstract). There was fortunately nothing from my most hated genre of all though, which is conceptual.

Still, there were a few catered to my narrow tastes. Paul Delvaux (I can always rely on Belgium, even in the 20th century ;D), Dali and the disturbing yet intriguing Francis Bacon. I then retreated back to my comfort zone on the top floor, to continue enjoying my favoured painters from 1350-1700. :)

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I've been looking forward to the 5th Centennial #Bosch exhibition for over a year, reading and watching everything I could about Bosch throughout 2015 and 2016. I made a failed attempt to go to its first stop, Bosch's hometown of s'Hertogenbosch, because I cleverly forgot to book a ticket in advance (instead, I had an excellent time in the Rijksmuseum and Frans Hals Museum).

That wasn't going to stop me, as I saw that the same exhibition would be travelling to the Prado. EasyJet threw another spanner in the works when they cancelled my flight, but I managed to get another one a day earlier. So, I had a lot of anticipation building up to this. El Bosco didn't disappoint. Lots of paintings, plenty of drawings and some well-chosen contemporaries and followers, plus a very good audio AND textual guide meant I was fully satisfied. There was even some decent stuff in the Prado giftshop this time. :D

The exhibition space got a little crowded, but the curators sensibly put the paintings (mostly altarpieces) on thick plinths, so you could see them from all angles (important with altarpieces, given there is normally something on the external wings too). The thickness also meant people couldn't crush in too tightly, so you could always get a viewing angle. I am a big fan of Bosch, meaning I spent three hours luxuriating in Bosch, but you could comfortably get through all 53 exhibits in around half that time. Entry is included in your general entry Prado ticket: you will need to select a time slot, though.

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Taking my own advice from last year, I headed to the top of the Prado to enjoy Goya from the beginning. He's one of my top 3 artists and there is no better place to see him than the Prado. In 2015, I went backwards. This time, I started with the tapestry cartoons on the 2nd floor. To get there, you'll need to first go up to the first floor, then head all the way over the right of your Prado map.

Near room 39, there are both stairs and an elevator to the top (Villanueva building). Most of it is taken up by the aforementioned tapestry cartoons, which Goya painted so a factory could use the designs for tapestries. A lot of them are innocuous in tone, portraying 'majos' and 'majas' having fun in the country. But even back in the 1770s when he was just starting out, there was more to Goya than pretty brushwork. For example, that pic of a straw mannequin being tossed into the air is apparently a comment on the power women have over men (I prefer women to be in power, incidentally: hopefully Merkel and May can sort out the mess left by the stupidity of Brexit men ;D).

He moved into portraits of aristocrats later (1st floor, rooms 34 through to about 37), before both his art and Spain got a lot darker. After the horrible King Ferdinand VII brutalised his country, Goya was producing the fascinating Black Paintings (ground floor, room 67 I think), frequently seen as the basis for modern art. Not that I much like what's become of modern painting since, as it's resulted in abstract and conceptual art (bleh), but I won't hold it against him. ;P

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Along with Bosch and Goya, the third of the old friends I saw today was El Greco, well represented at the Prado across three rooms (8b, 10 and another one near there). I randomly first encountered him in Seville, where I stumbled across an El Greco exhibition. That's where I also first saw his John the Evangelist, which is still my favourite El Greco painting (you can tell it's JTE by the dragon in his cup, referring to his anti-poison ninja skills).

El Greco's take on Mannerism has always reminded me of Dark Sun: Wake Of The Ravager, a computer game with atypical graphics. Although almost all of El Greco's best work is religious, it doesn't feel that way. Whereas it's easy to get sick of endless 'Madonna and Child' or Annunciations by other artists (I'm looking at you, Italian Renaissance ;D), with El Greco his figures look like they belong in Lord of the Rings rather than the Bible (I'm a great deal fonder of the former).

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I also made sure to visit some of my other favourites who aren't as well covered by the Prado. You can find Rogier van der Weyden's masterpiece near where Bosch normally lives (room 56a, IIRC). In 56a itself, there's an equally impressive work from another of my absolute faves, Pieter Bruegel.

Finally, the artist who has been a favourite of mine the longest (and provides the background pic for can be found in a corner of room 49: Parmigianino. There are four Mannerist works by him as you walk out one side of 49. You will almost certainly pass them, as the corridor formed by 49 is a major thoroughfare in the Prado.

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For my last wander before leaving I made two new friends and one semi-new friend. He's at the top of the below picture, Lawrence Alma-Tadema. There's a definite trend that when I'm stepping out of my 1450-1750 art comfort zone, I'll see a painting I like and wonder who it's by. On the last three or four art trips, it's invariably turned out to be Alma-Tadema.

The properly new ones were Camillo Torreggiani's ridiculously skilful sculpture and the appealingly PRB-esque style of Eduardo Rosales. Also, I need to give a shout-out to the Superdrug branch at Bristol Airport. I injured my heel about 10 days ago sparring Sam at Artemis BJJ, but thanks to those cushioned heel insoles I bought before my Madrid flight, I could handle 16 hours of art gallery wandering. They also helped me on my walk back once I arrived back in the UK, ready to get an early train to Bournemouth for a day of the inaugural UK BJJ Globetrotter Camp. :)

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